Friday, May 22, 2009

Marc Gervais et moi.

With the 62nd annual Cannes Film Festival entering its final weekend, this seems like an appropriate time to pay tribute to Marc Gervais, the Canadian Jesuit film scholar who is said to have attended the festival "more often than any other priest" and probably more often than many other academics or journalists. A longtime professor of film studies at Concordia University and an acknowledged authority on the work of Ingmar Bergman, Gervais attended the Cannes Film Festival annually for nearly forty years. Retired from Concordia and with his days on the festival circuit behind him, Gervais now lives at a Jesuit infirmary in Ontario. Marc is surely missed by his colleagues, students and friends in Montreal, where he spent the greater part of his professional and religious life. I hope those of his friends who read this will join me in praying for a great Jesuit, a fine priest and an exceptional gentleman.

I've written before about the influence that Marc Gervais had on my own vocation, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to get to know him somewhat over the course of several visits to Montreal. The above photos were taken during our first meeting, which came about quite unexpectedly. Passing through Montreal with another scholastic, I was staying in a community of francophone Jesuits on the other side of town (culturally as well as geographically) from the residence of English-speaking Jesuits where Gervais then lived. (I should probably point out that Canada has two Jesuit provinces - one French, the other English - and both have residences in Montreal.) A chance meeting with a Jesuit from the English province led to an invitation to dinner with his community, which is how I finally met Marc Gervais.

On the occasion of our first meeting as well as at other times, Marc Gervais proved an unfailingly gracious host. While he had stacks of papers to grade - he was still teaching, even though he had officially retired - Marc was happy to drop everything for a lengthy after-dinner chat with two visiting scholastics. Though we spoke a bit about our common interest in the films of Ingmar Bergman, our conversation touched on other topics as well. Marc spoke about his passion for Westerns (one of the pictures on his wall was a Monument Valley landscape, a still from a John Ford film) as well as the controversy that had erupted when a film festival jury that he led awarded a prize to Pier Paolo Pasolini's Teorema (a decision which some Vatican officials criticized as much for Pasolini's atheism as for the film's racy content). We also spoke more generally about faith and culture and about the role that the Society of Jesus has played in trying to bring the two together. At the end of that first meeting, Marc gave me a copy of his book Ingmar Bergman: Magician and Prophet, which you can see him signing in one of the above photos.

I hope that the above account proves an enjoyable one for the various friends and fans of Marc Gervais in the blogosphere. If any of said friends and fans come across this blog and would like to share their own memories and reflections, I would enjoy reading them. More importantly, I hope that you will join me in praying for Marc Gervais as he confronts the challenges of aging and diminishment. AMDG.

ADDENDUM (3/27/12): This post is getting some new hits following media reports of Marc Gervais' death, so visitors looking for more information on Marc's passing - or wanting to leave some memories or condolences, should read my most recent post.


At 5/23/2009 11:01 PM, Blogger Barbara said...

Thank you for sharing your acquaintanceship with Marc Gervais. My experience with him was more functional -- working with him in a liturgy, for example. He is always warm and affable. And he does indeed struggle with his diminishment, something painful for all of us to see. We do miss him.

At 3/21/2012 1:14 PM, Anonymous Martine said...

I have come across your blog in March 2012 only. Father Gervais would have turned 82 last December, is he still amongst us? I was profoundly touched by his teachings, as though they acted on two different wave lengths... I have last seen him in late 2007 or early 2008. I often think about him. I miss him too.

At 3/21/2012 4:50 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...


Father Gervais is still alive and residing at the Jesuit infirmary in Pickering, Ontario. I have not been in contact with him recently and thus do not know the present state of his health. I would be happy to send you his mailing address if you would like to get in contact with him again - please send me an email if interested.

At 3/27/2012 11:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so sorry to hear of Father Marc's passing. I never had the opportunity of meeting him personally (not being a film studies major while at Concordia) but heard so many wonderful things about him. May he rest in peace.

At 5/15/2012 3:58 PM, Anonymous Frederic Serre said...

Thank you for writing this kind tribute to Marc Gervais. I was saddened to hear of his death, as he seemed to be someone who was bigger than life, his love for the big screen limitless, and his warmth and kindness unforgettable. He was my cinema professor back in 1985, and he opened my eyes to so many films, so many gems and cinerma techniques that ordinarily would have been naked to my eyes. What a decent, wonderful man he was. I live in Montreal, and I am a regular cartoonist to Concordia University Magazine, and as I write these lines, I am penning a cartoon tribute to Mr. Gervais. I would be pleased to forward it along to you when it is completed. Best regards to you, and to Marc Gervais: thank you for being such an inspiration.

At 5/15/2012 4:47 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Mr. Serre,

Thank you for your kind words - yes, I would very much like to see your cartoon tribute to Marc when it is completed. Thank you again, and best wishes to you!


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